ONE in four people in The Bahamas are receiving food assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Food Distribution Task Force.
The organisation said yesterday that it is now helping more than 23,500 households in the country, with an estimated equivalent of 96,000 people receiving food assistance.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis established the task force after the pandemic hit The Bahamas to ensure people continued to have access to food. The 12-week programme has now distributed more than 65,000 food parcels and 10,000 food vouchers. The scheme involves non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in partnership with the government.
Task force chairperson Susan Larson said the NGOs “are doing an incredible job ramping up to assist thousands of people in need”.
She added: “They work tirelessly and often thanklessly to source, package and distribute food parcels or vouchers. The country owes them a great debt of gratitude.
“NGOs are also being helped by ongoing generous donations coming in from people everywhere. These donations are the lifeblood of the NGOS as they are under enormous pressure to carry out food distribution and also find the time to fund raise. To all those who are sending in private donations, thank you! You truly are saving the day.”
In this year’s Budget, the government committed $16m to food assistance. NGOs have contributed another $2.82m.
A database has been set up thanks to support from a local IT company, and a thousand households registered for assistance in 24 hours since Sunday.
Ms Larson also reported that while most recipients of food assistance are grateful, there is a growing sector of the population trying to game the system.
“We debated going public with this information,” Ms Larson said, “because most people are respectful of the situation and understand the need. But a vexing number of people are being deceptive. They have forced us to devote hundreds of man-hours to data verification, and they create unnecessary complications at check-in, slowing down processes for everyone. More importantly, they are being selfish and compromising the task force’s ability to help as many people who are truly vulnerable as possible.
“Our Cabinet mandate and our intention is to help the most vulnerable in our communities. We are not handing out free food to everyone. We are a food assistance programme, assisting the most vulnerable. And we are committed to continuing to do that.”
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The task force includes Bahamas Feeding Network, Bahamas Red Cross, Hands for Hunger, and Lend a Hand Bahamas, One Eleuthera Foundation, IDEA Relief, the GB Multi-Sectoral Committee, the Department of Social Services, the Lyford Cay Foundations, Organization for Responsible Government, and UNDP Bahamas.